The Browns have to be concerned about their defense following a blowout loss in Houston.
The Texans ran for 262 yards in an easy win, shredding a unit that had been touted as a team strength. Just two weeks ago, the Browns were ranked in the top four in overall NFL defense. They now are sixth, but are giving up 144 yards per game rushing, which ranks them 30th in the 32-team league.
The Browns can expect a full dose of Steven Jackson Sunday when the Rams visit.
"We've just got to get better," coach Pat Shurmur said. "When you stop the run it's a team thing and when you don't stop the run it's a team thing."
The Browns have not stopped the run since they returned from Art Modell's hiatus in 1999. Every year, they say they will. But 144 yards per game is a monstrous amount to give up.
This season the defense is not helped by a woeful offense, but at some point it has to make a stand. In coming weeks the Browns will see Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Cedric Benson, Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall.
That does not make things easier.
--The Browns continue to hit new lows and give their fans little reason to believe.
Sunday in a 30-12 loss in Houston, the Texans ran for 262 yards while the Browns had 172 yards total. Houston had not one, but two 100-yard rushers.
This is pretty much complete domination. And the Browns find themselves sliding badly toward NFL oblivion -- again. They have lost three-of-four, with the only win a 6-3 victory over Seattle in a game that was every bit as bad as it sounds.
"We played hard," said coach Pat Shurmur. "We played first snap to last. We tangled with a good team that played very well and we got beat.
Monday, Shurmur said negative momentum is stopped with wins, which is a fact. It is also a fact that the Browns are a long way from presenting the case that they can win.
Instead of going through a growing season in which many questions about the team were answered the Browns are providing few answers to any key questions -- including at quarterback, where Colt McCoy has done little to show he is the long-term solution.
Running back Peyton Hillis has had a mess of a season, the receivers catch very little down the field and the offensive line has fallen apart.
The past two games, the defense has regressed -- culminating with Houston's shove-it-down-their throat effort in Reliant Stadium.
Next up for the Browns: The Rams, a game the Browns pretty much have to win to validate their direction, because after the debacle that just took place in Houston the direction is nowhere.
McCoy, Browns' offense lacks direction
Quarterback Colt McCoy had another ineffective game Sunday. He is also starting to take the kind of pounding that makes many wonder if he'll last the season.
McCoy threw for 146 yards in the loss to Houston, many coming with the Browns well out of the game. That has been a staple of the Browns offense this season. Struggle early, fall behind, then gain yards and score once the game has been more or less decided.
McCoy had just 54 yards passing in the first half against Houston. Coach Pat Shurmur continues to stand behind McCoy, but the combination of his play and the lack of playmakers around him have many wondering where the offense is going.
The Browns have scored 42 points the last four games, and have had only game this season in which they topped 20. Sunday they could not top 200 yards in a loss in Houston.
It could not have gone a whole lot worse.
Ogbonnaya fumbled on his first carry, which also happened to be the Browns' first offensive play of the game. Houston had scored a touchdown on its first drive and led 7-0. It turned the lead into 14-0 a few plays after Ogbonnaya's fumble.
"I've got to take care of the ball," Ogbonnaya said. "I can't put our team in that kind of hole."
For the game, the Browns' starting running back gained 28 yards on 13 carries. The last two games, he has rushed for 65 yards on 24 carries as the Browns have struggled to find any kind of offense.
But when a team is struggling, it can't afford a first-play fumble. That set the Texans up and Houston, like most good teams do, took advantage.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Colt McCoy has had half a season as the unquestioned starter to prove he is the Browns' long-term answer at quarterback. The results: 57.5 percent completion rate (26th in the league), 1.764 yards (17th), 10 TDs (18th), 5.7 yards per attempt (33rd), 13 completions of 20 yards or more (30th -- rookie Cam Newton has 40) and a rating of 75.4 (27th). Those are not numbers that would convince a team to look away from a quarterback in the 2012 draft, especially since the Browns' schedule the second half is much more difficult than it was the first.
--RB Chris Ogbonnaya figures to start again for the Browns Sunday against St. Louis. Since he joined the Browns, Ogbonnaya has basically shown why he was on Houston's practice squad. He has carried the ball 27 times for 80 yards, and his first-play fumble in Houston doomed the Browns.
--RB Peyton Hillis already has been ruled out of Sunday's game against St. Louis. Hillis re-injured his hamstring Friday in practice, as his lost season continued. The Browns do not seem inclined to put Hillis on injured reserve. Coach Pat Shurmur said Hillis would be embraced by his team upon his return. He's not done much to earn any embraces this season.
--WR Mohamed Massaquoi figures to miss Sunday's game against St. Louis after he could not finish the game in Houston. Massaquoi had missed a week with a concussion, then had to leave the game in Houston because he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms. These developments have to be concerning for the Browns. Massaquoi missed time with a concussion a year ago.
--WR Greg Little has been force-fed the offense, but he's not exactly responded. Little, a rookie who spent one season at receiver in college and who missed his final year at North Carolina due to NCAA violations, was targeted eight times in Houston and caught two passes. This season, he has been targeted 60 times, and caught 31 of the throws.
--TE Ben Watson has seen his production drop with the offense's. Watson had a decent start and still leads the team with 25 catches, but he has just nine receptions the last four games.
--S T.J. Ward may miss time after injuring his foot in the loss to Houston. Ward heard a pop in his foot, which is never a good sign. Ward is a decent safety, though he's not great at coverage. He still will be missed if he's out because the dropoff from the starters is significant.
--LB Chris Gocong was given a new contract before the season, but his lack of speed shows in games like the one against Houston. Gocong can play when teams cannot run on the edge, but when teams can his limitations in space appear.
--DT Phil Taylor has had some moments his rookie season, but the amount of time he has to stay on the field is starting to wear him down. Taylor does not leave the field often, and was handled well by Houston's offensive line as the Texans racked up 262 yards against the Browns.
--WR Josh Cribbs remains the Browns' only true playmaker. Cribbs has two touchdowns the past two weeks, and continues to excel returning kicks and punts. Cribbs would fit better on a team where he was a key supplementary part, but he has done well with the opportunities given him.
--PK Phil Dawson continues to be a pro's pro. Dawson had another 50-yard field goal in Houston, giving him six for the season. That's a career high -- and as many field goals as he has from 19-49 yards for the season as well.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The play-calling is baffling, the protection non-existent, the ability of the team to actually complete a meaningful pass down the field ... well let's just say the Browns offense is poor. The more problematic part of things: The offense seems to get worse every week, not better. And the Browns are forcing Greg Little on the field with very limited results. At the end of the first half, Little and Colt McCoy read a play different; the result was an interception that gave Houston a field goal. The Browns are a struggling offense with a struggling quarterback and few playmakers around him.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Little was expected of the Browns running game against Houston, and little was produced. The Browns as a team ran for fewer yards (44) than two of Houston's backs, as Arian Foster had 125 yards and Ben Tate 115. Worse, Chris Ogbonnaya's first-play fumble led to the Browns falling into a 14-0 hole from which this offense cannot dig out. The Browns' three top backs are hurt, but in the unforgiving world of the NFL, that is no excuse. The Browns simply failed in their attempts to run the ball.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Matt Schaub didn't really try to throw the ball much -- he didn't have to. With the running game slicing through the Browns defense like they weren't there, Schaub could pretty much take this game easy. He did, finishing 14-of-23 for 119 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Not great, but with Houston's running game going it didn't have to be.
RUSH DEFENSE: F -- Houston's run game was no secret. It's the Texans' bread-and-butter. But the Browns did nothing to stop it, as Arian Foster and Ben Tate both went over the 100-yard rushing mark when neither had 20 carries. It was men against boys, as the Texans exposed the overrated Browns defense for what it is -- a team that can play well in spurts, but is not physical enough to play well consistently against another good team. The proof: Houston ran for 262 yards and the Browns gave up 100 yards to two backs in a game for the first time since 1956.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- When all else fails the Browns always have Phil Dawson. One of the league's best kickers made two more field goals of 50-plus yards, giving him six for the season. Dawson has been excellent all season. Otherwise, the Browns gave up a 50-yard punt return and had a big kickoff return negated when Josh Cribbs grabbed the facemask of a tackler. The Browns can't even get out of their own way when they do something right.
COACHING: D-minus -- Is there such a thing as an F-plus? Pat Shurmur is up against it in his first year as a head coach. He has a struggling quarterback, injuries at running back and receivers who are ordinary at best. Oh ... he also has an offensive line that has been shredded by injury. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln ... In some ways, the Browns should struggle against a team like Houston. The Texans have more talent. But the way the Browns start games is an indictment of the coach. The first plays are scripted, the defense should be prepared and the team should appear ready to compete. The Browns don't. They have been outscored 58-6 in the first quarter this season, which speaks poorly of the team's preparation. The past few weeks the offense has shown no life, no spark, and Shurmur goes to nothing different to provide that missing spark. The season is only half old, but the Browns already have their fans ready to revolt. Again.